The BOOKPRESS May 2000

The Impossible Body - a poem

Madeline Still Bergstrom

At 12:47 a.m., the car spun off the road and collided with the house. The car plowed through a wall, killing an 87-year-old woman who was asleep in bed. Her husband, who lay beside her, suffered only minor injuries. At the time of this report, no cause had been established for the accident.

–The Baltimore Sun

I. Inviolate

She walks along the river

threading violets through her windpipe,

swallowing animals whole.

The impossible body.

She has no hands, but reaches into things.

Through the choke of purple weeds

she feels the force of green things pushed

into the hapless air.

She is vigor without intent.

Stalking the pale evening,

she scents the hot sap moving

in the dumbstruck trees.

II. Vestige

Linnaeus takes the body,

opens the chest like a curtain with his knife.

He is looking for the pea-sized heart, still squeezing.

He extricates ribs, esophagus, and lungs.

Accustomed to flowers, he frowns, consults a book.

The body is made of predictable structures:

the leftward coil of the intestines,

the path of blood from heart to brain.

All bodies made the same.

Linnaeus closes the small body like a window,

smooths the rent skin, half expects

the frog to breathe again.

III. Vespers

The words bell and belfry seem obviously related, but in fact the bel- portion of belfry has nothing to do with bells. Rather, belfry is derived from a compound formed in prehistoric Common German, indicating "peace, safety" and "a high place."

—The American Heritage Dictionary

A tower, black and lacy,

smudged with centuries of smoke,

stands skeletal against the blue night.

A hundred bats rise like a column of leaves

and strike their pointed voices

against bodies, stone, and sky.

Their faces mild as rabbits,

they are gargoyles in flight,

making a cacophony of unheard sounds.

Moths crinkle, sweet and dusty,

against the bats’ tongues.

Their bones are flutes.

At daybreak, they fill the empty belfry

with a flurry of wings,

then settle into silence.

They close their igneous eyes,

hang their angelic faces upside down

and sleep till nightfall.

IV. Vigil

In violets the body lies, pale as a thumbnail moon.

Winter rain falls greenly, breaking the snow into hills.

Her mother’s perfume, her grandmother’s: lilacs.

Running through screen doors; a bird in the house.

We are born into the present tense,

but we have learned to conjugate.

She is her body, but will not rot.

Her cheeks will bloom with lichen.

"Never climb on wet rocks, never dive

into unknown rivers;" she did these things.

Her limbs are vines, her teeth are bullets and stars,

there is nothing, she climbs higher,

there is air and lilacs. The body lies in state,

not listening to the sermon.

V. Viola

Make me a willow cabin at your gate,

And call upon my soul within the house.

—Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

We are our bodies, dumb and profligate.

Like green stalks punched through dirt, we can’t resist

the upward force.

We say old prayers: scissors, paper, rock;

but these do not suffice. The impossible

body eludes, steaming from ice to mist.

The chilly earth abhors us. We can die

without warning, like candles left

by open windows. Cars can go through walls.

Everything we know of taxonomy

will fail us. The heart refuses to be found

by knives or naming.

The impossible body threads her throat with flowers,

walks her grave, keens wildly at her death,

and will not leave us.

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